Proposed “Driving While Stoned”

Colorado is in the middle of a drug war. This past November, the continued legal operation of medical marijuana was on ballots across the state. In the minds of many Coloradoans, complete legalization isn’t too far behind, and some proponents are preparing a campaign to pursue that in 2012. As a result of continued debate over legalizing marijuana — medical and otherwise — and the effects it has on the body, a state lawmaker is now proposing legislation that would implement “driving while stoned” limitations.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana, also called cannabis or pot, can have some of the same effects on the brain and body that alcohol does. The active chemical cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. When marijuana is smoked, THC passes quickly from the lungs to the bloodstream, and is then carried to the brain, and other organs in the body.

Once THC reaches the brain, it induces marijuana intoxication, or the “high” that is the goal for many who smoke pot. Similar to alcohol intoxication, marijuana can cause impaired coordination, difficulty thinking, impaired problem solving, and distorted perceptions. Studies have shown that chronic users may suffer from the negative effects on learning and memory for days, or even weeks after actually using the drug. Because of this, people who smoke pot on a daily basis may not function at optimal levels.

This is a concern for many people who say that too-high levels of THC in the body can impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. Some feel that driving while stoned is tantamount to drunk driving, and puts not just the driver, but everyone else on the road in danger.

Under current law, drivers who are stopped on suspicion of being impaired by alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs must submit to a blood test, or have their license suspended. While there is a legal limit for alcohol intoxication, there is not any standard for marijuana intoxication. The proposed legislation would create that standard, and allow law enforcement officers to better gauge whether someone is too impaired to drive if they are under the influence of marijuana. In addition, it would make it easier to determine fault in a car accident if marijuana is involved.

As you might expect, those in favor of legalizing marijuana are not very happy about the proposed driving while stoned limitations. Conversely, law enforcement officials would welcome the change. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson says current statistics show that some form of marijuana appears in eight percent of all accidents involving impaired drivers killed in Colorado.

Colorado still has a way to go before the issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana, and its potential effects on drivers, are resolved.